Domestic Violence Awareness Month gives me the opportunity to highlight some of the incredible things that the Department of Justice and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) are doing to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence and prevent future intimate partner violence.
One way in which the Department has sought to support survivors is by addressing housing insecurity for all vulnerable communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on women, survivors, and communities of color, and we know that many have struggled to pay their rent or mortgage to stay in their homes. To address the looming tide of evictions arising from the pandemic, in June, I wrote to judges and state court administrators to urge them to consider eviction diversion strategies to help families avoid the disruption and damage that evictions cause. And recently, the Attorney General issued a call to action to lawyers and law students to help tenants and landlords obtain rental assistance, to represent tenants in housing court, or to help courts implement eviction diversion programs. And the response thus far has been inspirational: 99 law schools from around the country have committed to focusing their law clinic and pro bono programs to help. Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a training hosted by the Association of Pro Bono Counsel to train hundreds of private attorneys to help tenants and landlords apply for emergency rental assistance. I’m also encouraged by the work of OVW grantees like the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who developed the Domestic Violence Housing First Toolkit to help organizations keep housing access at the center of their work with survivors.
I would also like to highlight two important grants that provide culturally specific services: Grants to Enhance Culturally Specific Services for Victims of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Program (CSSP) and Sexual Assault Services Program – Culturally Specific Services (SASP - CSS). Like any group of people, survivors of domestic violence are not a monolith, and using a “one size fits all” approach to healing, advocacy, and justice can leave many survivors out. But both CSSP and SASP-SAS fund projects focused on racial and ethnic minority groups including American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, Black, and Hispanic survivors. Linguistic and cultural differences should not be a barrier to a survivor obtaining services such as advocacy, counseling, and crisis intervention; CSSP and SASP-SAS grantees are community-based organizations, familiar with survivors’ culture, language, and backgrounds, that can understand and navigate these unique dynamics. Ultimately, there is no survivor justice without racial justice, and ending intimate partner violence requires addressing equal access to services and programs. CSSP and SASP-CSS grantees help remove discriminatory barriers that can exist when service providers fail to provide a multifaceted approach to care.
Addressing violence against women takes the work of every part of the government. This month, the White House Gender Policy Council announced the first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which sets forth a comprehensive agenda to advance gender equity and equality. The Department of Justice is eager to continue working with others across the federal government to realize the bold vision reflected in the strategy, including preventing and responding to gender-based violence, increasing access to health care, and advancing democracy, rights, and full participation for all.
Again – we all can contribute to the end of domestic violence and create a more equal and equitable world for women, girls, and people of all genders who experience harm. This October and every day, we recommit to raising awareness about domestic violence, sharing resources and tools, and supporting victims and survivors in the many ways they choose to access healing, accountability, and justice.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence, there are many services available to help, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org. On OVW’s Local Resources page, you can find your state’s domestic violence coalition, which can direct you to local resources and services, as well as opportunities to get involved.